In the morning, he knew he had been here before. In the darkness he had chosen unknowingly but also unerringly. This was the place in which he had been retrogressed.
It was here that the police had picked him up.
The counselor looked sleepily out of the screen. "I wish you people didn't have so much energy," he complained. Then he looked again and the sleepiness vanished. "I see you found it the first time."
Luis knew it himself, because there was a difference from the dwelling Luise lived in--not much, but perceptible to him. The counselor, however, must have a phenomenal memory to distinguish it from hundreds of others almost like it.
Borgenese noticed the expression and smiled. "I'm not an eidetic, if that's what you think. There's a number on the set you're calling from and it shows on my screen. You can't see it."
They would have something like that, Luis thought. "Why didn't you tell me this was it before I came?"
"We were pretty sure you'd find it by yourself. People who've just been retroed usually do. It's better to do it on your own. Our object is to have you recover your personality. If we knew who you were, we could set up a program to guide you to it faster. As it is, if we help you too much, you turn into a carbon copy of the man who's advising you."
Luis nodded. Give a man his adult body and mind and turn him loose on the problems which confronted him, and he would come up with adult solutions. It was better that way.
But he hadn't called to discuss that. "There's another person living in the Shelters," he said. "You found her three weeks before you found me."
"So you've met her already? Fine. We were hoping you would." Borgenese chuckled. "Let's see if I can describe her. Apparent age, about twenty-three; that means that she was originally between twenty-six or thirty-eight, with the probability at the lower figure. A good body, as you are probably well aware, and a striking face. Somewhat oversexed at the moment, but that's all right--so are you."
He saw the expression on Luis's face and added quickly: "You needn't worry. Draw a parallel with your own experience. There were pretty nurses all around you in retro-therapy, and I doubt that you noticed that they were female. That's normal for a person in your position, and it's the same with her.
"It works this way: you're both unsure of yourselves and can't react to those who have some control over their emotions. When you meet each other, you can sense that neither has made the necessary adjustments, and so you are free to release your true feelings."
He smiled broadly. "At the moment, you two are the only ones who have been retroed recently. You won't have any competition for six months or so, until you begin to feel comfortable in your new life. By then, you should know how well you really like each other.
"Of course tomorrow, or even today, we might find another person in the Shelter. If it's a man, you'll have to watch out; if a woman, you'll have too much companionship. As it is, I think you're very lucky."
Yeah, he was lucky--or would be if things were actually like that. Yesterday he would have denied it; but today, he'd be willing to settle for it, if he could get it.
"I don't think you understand," he said. "She took the same name that I did."
Borgenese's smile flipped over fast, and the other side was a frown. For a long time he sat there scowling out of the screen. "That's a hell of a thing to tell me before breakfast," he said. "Are you sure? She couldn't decide on a name before she left."
"I'm sure," said Luis, and related all the details of last night.
The counselor sat there and didn't say anything.
Luis waited as long as he could. "You can trace us now," he said. "One person might be difficult. But two of us with nearly the same name, that should stick out big, even in a population of sixteen billion. Two people are missing from somewhere. You can find that."
The counselor's face didn't change. "You understand that if you were killed, we'd find the man who did it. I can't tell you how, but you can be sure he wouldn't escape. In the last hundred years there's been no unsolved murder."
He coughed and turned away from the screen. When he turned back, his face was calm. "I'm not supposed to tell you this much. I'm breaking the rule because your case and that of the girl is different from any I've ever handled." He was speaking carefully. "Listen. I'll tell you once and won't repeat it. If you ever accuse me, I'll deny I said it, and I have the entire police organization behind me to make it stick."
The counselor closed his eyes as if to see in his mind the principle he was formulating. "If we can catch a murderer, no matter how clever he may be, it ought to be easier to trace the identity of a person who is still alive. It is. But we never try. Though it's all right if the victim does.
"If I should ask the cooperation of other police departments, they wouldn't help. If the solution lies within an area over which I have jurisdiction and I find out who is responsible, I will be dismissed before I can prosecute the man."
Luis stared at the counselor in helpless amazement. "Then you're not doing anything," he said shakily. "You lied to me. You don't intend to do anything."
"You're overwrought," said Borgenese politely. "If you could see how busy we are in your behalf--" He sighed. "My advice is that if you can't convince the girl, forget her. If the situation gets emotionally unbearable, let me know and I can arrange transportation to another city where there may be others who are--uh--more compatible."
"But she's my wife," he said stubbornly.
"Are you sure?"
Actually Luis wasn't--but he wanted her to be, or any variation thereof she would consent to. He explained.
"As she says, there are a lot of factors," commented the counselor. "I'd suggest an examination. It may remove some of her objections."
He hadn't thought of it, but he accepted it eagerly. "What will that do?"
"Not much, unfortunately. It will prove that you two can have healthy normal children, but it won't indicate that you're not a member of her genetic family. And, of course, it won't touch on the question of legal family, brother-in-law and the like. I don't suppose she'd accept that."
She wouldn't. He'd seen her for only a brief time and yet he knew that much. He was in an ambiguous position; he could make snap decisions he was certain were right, but he had to guess at facts. He and the girl were victims, and the police refused to help them in the only way that would do much good. And the police had, or thought they had, official reasons for their stand.
Luis told the counselor just exactly what he thought of that.
"It's too bad," agreed the counselor. "These things often have an extraordinary degree of permanency if they ever get started."
If they ever got started! Luis reached out and turned off the screen. It flickered unsteadily--the counselor was trying to call him back. He didn't want to talk to the man; it was painful, and Borgenese had nothing to add but platitudes, and fuel to his anger. He swung open the panel and jerked the wiring loose and the screen went blank.
There was an object concealed in the mechanism he had exposed. It was a neat, vicious, little retrogression gun.
He got it out and balanced it gingerly in his hand. Now he had something else to work on! It was the weapon, of course. It had been used on him and then hidden behind the screen.
It was a good place to hide it. The screens never wore out or needed adjustment, and the cleaning robots that came out of the wall never cleaned there. The police should have found it, but they hadn't looked. He smiled bitterly. They weren't interested in solving crimes--merely in ameliorating the consequences.
Though the police had failed, he hadn't. It could be traced back to the man who owned it, and that person would have information. He turned the retro gun over slowly; it was just a gun; there were countless others like it.
He finished dressing and dropped the gun in his pocket. He went outside and looked across the court. He hesitated and then walked over and knocked.
"Occupied," said the door. "But the occupant is out. No definite time of return stated, but she will be back this evening. Is there any message?"
"No message," he said. "I'll call back when she's home."
He hoped she wouldn't refuse to speak to him. She'd been away from retro-therapy longer than he and possibly had developed her own leads--very likely she was investigating some of them now. Whatever she found would help him, and vice versa. The man who'd retroed her had done the same to him. They were approaching the problem from different angles. Between the two of them, they should come up with the correct solution.
He walked away from the Shelters and caught the belt to the center of town; the journey didn't take long. He stepped off, and wandered in the bright sunshine, not quite aimlessly. At length he found an Electronic Arms store, and went inside.
A robot came to wait on him. "I'd like to speak to the manager," he said and the robot went away.
Presently the manager appeared, middle aged, drowsy. "What can I do for you?"
Luis laid the retrogression gun on the counter. "I'd like to know who this was sold to."
The manager coughed. "Well, there are millions of them, hundreds of millions."
"I know, but I have to find out."
The manager picked it up. "It's a competitor's make," he said doubtfully. "Of course, as a courtesy to a customer...." He fingered it thoughtfully. "Do you really want to know? It's just a freezer. Not at all dangerous."
Luis looked at it with concern. Just a freezer--not a retro gun at all! Then it couldn't have been the weapon used on him.
Before he could take it back the manager broke it open. The drowsy expression vanished.
"Why didn't you say so?" exclaimed the manager, examining it. "This gun has been illegally altered." He bent over the exposed circuits and then glanced up happily at Luis. "Come here, I'll show you."
Luis followed him to the small workshop in the back of the store. The manager closed the door behind them and fumbled among the equipment. He mounted the gun securely in a frame and pressed a button which projected an image of the circuit onto a screen.
The manager was enjoying himself. "Everybody's entitled to self-protection," he said. "That's why we sell so many like these. They're harmless, won't hurt a baby. Fully charged, they'll put a man out for half an hour, overload his nervous system. At the weakest, they'll still keep him out of action for ten minutes. Below that, they won't work at all." He looked up. "Are you sure you understand this?"
It had been included in his re-education, but it didn't come readily to his mind. "Perhaps you'd better go over it for me."
The manager wagged his head. "As I said, the freezer is legal, won't harm anyone. It'll stop a man or an elephant in his tracks, freeze him, but beyond that will leave him intact. When he comes out of it, he's just the same as before, nothing changed." He seized a pointer and adjusted the controls so as to enlarge the image on the screen. "However, a freezer can be converted to a retrogression gun, and that's illegal." He traced the connections with the pointer. "If this wire, instead of connecting as it does, is moved to here and here, the polarity is reversed. In addition, if these four wires are interchanged, the freezer becomes a retrogressor. As I said, it's illegal to do that."
The manager scrutinized the circuits closely and grunted in disgust. "Whoever converted this did a sloppy job. Here." He bent over the gun and began manipulating micro-instruments. He worked rapidly and surely. A moment later, he snapped the weapon together and straightened up, handing it to Luis. "There," he said proudly. "It's a much more effective retrogressor than it was. Uses less power too."
Luis swallowed. Either he was mad or the man was, or perhaps it was the society he was trying to adjust to. "Aren't you taking a chance, doing this for me?"
The manager smiled. "You're joking. A tenth of the freezers we sell are immediately converted into retrogressors. Who cares?" He became serious. "Do you still want to know who bought it?"
Luis nodded--at the moment he didn't trust his voice.
"It will take several hours. No charge though, customer service. Tell me where I can reach you."
Luis jotted down the number of the screen at the Shelter and handed it to the manager. As he left, the manager whispered to him: "Remember, the next time you buy a freezer--ours can be converted easier than the one you have."
He went out into the sunlight. It didn't seem the same. What kind of society was he living in? The reality didn't fit with what he had re-learned. It had seemed an orderly and sane civilization, with little violence and vast respect for the law.
But the fact was that any school child--well, not quite that young, perhaps--but anyone older could and did buy a freezer. And it was ridiculously easy to convert a freezer into something far more vicious. Of course, it was illegal, but no one paid any attention to that.
This was wrong; it wasn't the way he remembered....
He corrected himself: he didn't actually remember anything. His knowledge came from tapes, and was obviously inadequate. Certain things he just didn't understand yet.
He wanted to talk to someone--but who? The counselor had given him all the information he intended to. The store manager had supplied some additional insight, but it only confused him. Luise--at the moment she was suspicious of him.
There was nothing to do except to be as observant as he could. He wandered through the town, just looking. He saw nothing that seemed familiar. Negative evidence, of course, but it indicated he hadn't lived here before.
Before what? Before he had been retrogressed. He had been brought here from elsewhere, the same as Luise.
He visited the spaceport. Again the evidence was negative; there was not a ship the sight of which tripped his memory. It had been too much to hope for; if he had been brought in by spaceship, it wouldn't still be around for him to recognize.
Late in the afternoon, he headed toward the center of town. He was riding the belt when he saw Luise coming out of a tall office building.
He hopped off and let her pass, boarding it again and following her at a distance. As soon as they were out of the business district, he began to edge closer.
A few blocks from the Shelter she got off the belt and waited, turning around and smiling directly at him. In the interim her attitude toward him had changed, evidently--for the better, as far as he was concerned. He couldn't ignore her and didn't want to. He stepped off the belt.
"Hello," she said. "I think you were following me."
"I was. Do you mind?"
"I guess I don't." She walked along with him. "Others followed me, but I discouraged them."
She was worth following, but it was not that which was strange. Now she seemed composed and extraordinarily friendly, a complete reversal from last night. Had she learned something during the day which changed her opinion of him? He hoped she had.
She stopped at the edge of the Shelter area. "Do you live here?"
Learned something? She seemed to have forgotten.
"For the same reason?"
His throat tightened. He had told her all that last night. Couldn't she remember?
"Yes," he said.
"I thought so. That's why I didn't mind your following me."
Here was the attraction factor that Borgenese had spoken of; it was functioning again, for which he was grateful. But still, why? And why didn't she remember last night?
They walked on until she came to her dwelling. She paused at the door. "I have a feeling I should know who you are, but I just can't recall. Isn't that terrible?"
It was--frightening. Her identity was apparently incompletely established; it kept slipping backward to a time she hadn't met him. He couldn't build anything enduring on that; each meeting with her would begin as if nothing had happened before.
Would the same be true of him?
He looked at her. The torn dress hadn't been repaired, as he'd thought at first; it had been replaced by the robots that came out of the wall at night. They'd done a good job fitting her, but with her body that was easy.
It was frightening and it wasn't. At least this time he didn't have a handicap. He opened his mouth to tell her his name, and then closed it. He wasn't going to make that mistake again. "I haven't decided on a name," he said.
"It was that way with me too." She gazed at him and he could feel his insides sloshing around. "Well, man with no name, do you want to come in? We can have dinner together."
He entered. But dinner was late that night. He had known it would be.